I’ve never been able to envision myself as an old woman. And when one lacks imagination, it helps to have a little darkness and dry wit in your arsenal. My brew was particularly potent as a tween, 13 years old specifically – mature enough to understand that my family was dysfunctional to the point of dangerous, but too young and hapless to do much of anything about it.
I remember talking to my oldest friend Bob during one of our marathon phone sessions. At one point I lowered my voice to what I assumed was a very serious sounding whisper and shared, “I’m not meant for a long life Bob. I can’t see myself making it past 20.” At the time this sounded tragic yet sensible to my ears. Age 20 was seven years away, a veritable lifetime. Hell, seven years prior to uttering the dire warning to my confidante, I had been six years old, jealous to the point of pain of the other kids playing Bozo’s Grand Prize Game on TV. A lot can change in seven years and at 13, I was convinced I was the tortured, poetic heir apparent to John Keats.
So obviously I’ve made it a bit father than 20. I’ve accrued two degrees, loved and lost, developed a career I treasure and surrounded myself with a family comprised of blood and the most wacky, brilliant and loyal friends a person could wish into reality. I’ve had enough experiences across the spectrum by the age of 35 to produce what would make, if I may be so boastful, a fine mini-series or Lifetime movie. It hasn’t been easy. The road has been paved with the 3 D’s of misery: disease, death and divorce. But on the whole, I have few regrets. I like who I am and am more comfortable in my skin than ever before. I am proud of the life I’m building.
And maybe it’s because I’m on more solid footing with myself, accepting of singlehood and an autoimmune disease with the wisdom of one who knows how much worse it could be, that I’m starting to wonder about my older version. What does she look like? What are her beliefs and values? How does she compare with the person who wakes up each morning in 2014? Because if I am growing incrementally more secure with me and my world each month, I want to be there to see the end result, even if the mechanical parts don’t work as well as they did in 1992. It’s a shame that the Becky of 13 looked at the days and years ahead as something to be endured. The weight of the present leaving her unable to envision surviving to an age when her body might fail as profoundly as her luck in the parental lottery.
For so many blessed even if they hurt reasons, I’ve shed fear. I no longer assess situations for their potential to harm. I view them instead through the prism of potential laughter, euphoria or at the very least, a good happy hour story. As if I were already that elderly woman I once couldn’t imagine, I know that the regrets I’ll have, if any, will be for the things I never tried.
And so it was I found myself on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico last week, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. For the first time I thought about retirement and that I might like to do so there. I also understood finally why people toss it all in favor of a quieter, more natural life.
I love Chicago with all its frenzy. In many ways, the city has served as the external mirror to my soul’s historical torrent. It will be my home as long as I have health, career, family and friends to keep me here. But there may come a day when that changes. I know not what my financial situation might be, but perhaps I can rent a run-down little house near the beach, buy myself some Wi-Fi access and a kayak.
There were stretches of last week when I had no idea what time it was, and I didn’t need one. I like the version of me that emerged apart from the slick-ponytailed, frenzied denizen of a concrete jungle who doesn’t know what to do with unstructured hours. I was the barefoot adventurer, the lover of natural beauty with untamed curls a complete lack of self-consciousness. I want to go back to the island, get to know that person a little better, maybe even grow old with her.
The point is I’m starting to see it.